Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
20 January 2016
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
The Secretary-General arrived in Davos a few hours ago to attend the 2016 World Economic Forum. He began his day by speaking at an event sponsored by the Prime Minister of Sweden, Stefan Löfven, on operationalizing the Sustainable Development Goals. The Secretary-General said that world leaders came together last September to adopt the 2030 Global Development agenda but he said that the test of commitment will be implementation.
The Secretary-General also spoke at an event sponsored by the Global Compact. He told the gathered business leaders that they have an important part to play in implementing the Sustainable Development Goals. He stressed that as the UN scales up its work with the business community, we all have to be guided by integrity, accountability and transparency.
Before attending a welcome dinner by the head of the World Economic Forum, Klaus Schwab, the Secretary-General is scheduled to meet with World Bank President Jim Yong Kim.
In a statement we issued yesterday evening, the Secretary-General warmly welcomed the announcement by the Presidency Council of the nomination of ministers for the Government of National Accord of Libya. This marks an important step towards the implementation of the Libya Political Agreement and the resolution of the crisis in the country.
The Secretary-General looks forward to the endorsement of the new Government so that it can begin to address the many challenges facing the country. He commends the Presidency Council and all Libyan leaders who have demonstrated their commitment to place the national interest first and to engage in dialogue to resolve their differences.
The Secretary-General reiterates his call on all Libyans to support the implementation of the Libyan Political Agreement so that Libya can continue its democratic transition.
The Joint African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) continues to report fighting between Government forces and armed movements in Jebel Marra over the past few days, including reportedly aerial bombardment. UNAMID has observed the arrival of 200 civilians to the Straha camp for internally displaced persons in Nertiti and another 700 in the vicinity of its team site in Sortony who are being provided with basic assistance.
Yesterday, on 19 January, the Mission conducted a mission to Nertiti to assess the situation and the status of the displaced population. The Mission has put contingency measures in place, intensified day and night patrols, and is working with the United Nations country team to respond to the protection and humanitarian needs of the civilian population in the area.
**Central African Republic
An Emergency Food Security Assessment by the World Food Programme (WFP) and its partners reveals that half the population of the Central African Republic – that's nearly 2.5 million people – faces hunger.
The World Food Programme says this marks a doubling in the number of hungry people in a one-year period. It adds that it is extremely concerned by this alarming level of hunger.
The World Food Programme is providing emergency food and nutritional support to those most vulnerable. In December 2015, WFP provided food for nearly 400,000 people through general food distributions, cash-based transfers, nutrition support and school meals, and food-for-assets activities.
The World Food Programme needs urgent support to continue to provide food and nutritional assistance to displaced and vulnerable communities as well as to support recovery efforts. $41 million is needed so that WFP can respond to urgent needs through to the end of June in the Central African Republic and the neighbouring countries hosting Central African refugees. To date, WFP's operation is only 45 percent funded.
At a meeting this morning, the Security Council adopted a resolution by which it decided to decrease the authorized ceiling of the military component of the UN Mission in Côte d'Ivoire (UNOCI) from 5,437 to 4,000 military personnel by 31 March 2016.
With the war in Syria now approaching its sixth year and food supplies at an all-time low, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today called on Governments to provide a boost in funding targeted at helping farmers keep their lands in production to prevent the situation from deteriorating even further. Food prices in Syria have soared, with prices in some markets for wheat flour and rice jumping by as much as 300 percent and 650 per cent, respectively, over the past 18 months.
The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), together with the Women's Refugee Commission, today expressed concern over the grave risks to refugee and migrant women and girls on the move in Europe.
The three agencies conducted a joint field assessment last November of risks involved for refugee and migrant women and girls in Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
Their report found that those who are at particular risk include single women travelling alone or with children; pregnant and lactating women; adolescent girls; unaccompanied children; and early-married children, sometimes themselves with new-born babies.
Also on this issue, with up to 3,000 refugees and migrants passing through Slovenia every day, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the country's Government today announced that they are joining forces to improve the care and protection of children on the move.
Despite Government efforts to provide shelter and essential services to people on the move, support systems are stretched because of the sheer scale of the crisis. UNICEF aims to scale up child protection services by training front line workers, carrying out hygiene promotion and distributing supplies for the winter.
Two more Member States have paid their regular budget dues in full for 2016 – they are Latvia and Singapore – and that brings the total number of countries to have paid up so far to nine.
**Press Conference Tomorrow
Tomorrow, at 11:30 a.m., there will be a press conference, here in this room, on Indigenous Languages - Preservation and Revitalization, in the context of an ongoing expert group meeting on that topic.
And that's all I've got. Are there any questions? Yes, Edie?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Farhan, does the United Nations have any comment on, can it confirm this report in the Daily Telegraph in Britain that the UN is asking the UK (United Kingdom) and perhaps others to carry out air drops in Syria?
Deputy Spokesman: No, I can't confirm that. First of all, of course, we don't comment on leaks of documents. I wouldn't be able to verify that. But beyond that, more importantly on the general question of air drops, obviously, the UN as an entity does not authorize or decline to authorize air drops. Those are sovereign decisions taken by each country on its own accord. But beyond that, as far as we stand and as our humanitarian branch, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), determines, it regards air drops as useful as a last resort to deliver aid quickly, particularly in areas that are subject to active ground conflict or where infrastructure is poor or absent. However, air drops have some clear limitations, like the volume and types of assistance that can be delivered, the location it can be delivered to, limited ability to control the landing site and safe distribution of assistance to people in need, high cost and most importantly security. So, as you can see from that, our point of view on air drops is an ambiguous one; but any decisions on whether to pursue it or not would need for be taken by the different Member States who are considering the issue. Yes, in the back?
Question: Thank you. My name is Diego Señor. I work with W Radio for Colombia. Yesterday a Government announcement, very important announcement was made by the Colombian President and their Foreign Minister regarding the intentions of including the Security Council and the United Nations as a system in the peace process from now on. We understand that a letter was given to the Secretary‑General's office and we wanted to see how does the United Nations receive this invitation and any reactions for further actions?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes. I can confirm receipt of a letter regarding this matter. Certainly, we do welcome the progress that has been made between the Government of Colombia and the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and we are trying to support the agreement that they have made with each other. I do expect to have a statement. I was kind of hoping to have it right at this second, but I don't have it; but possibly either within the hour or later this afternoon, we will have something more to say on this. Yes?
[The Spokesperson later issued the following statement: The Secretary-General welcomes the joint communiqué issued by the Government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People's Army (FARC-EP) in Havana yesterday announcing their decision to request the Security Council to establish a political mission in Colombia. The mission would constitute the international component of a tripartite mechanism to monitor and verify a future agreement on a bilateral and definitive ceasefire and cessation of hostilities and the laying down of arms.
The Secretary-General also welcomes the parties' request to the members of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) to contribute international observers to the mission to be established by the United Nations.
The Secretary-General congratulates the Government of Colombia and the FARC-EP on yet another significant step towards the peaceful resolution of the armed conflict. He reiterates the commitment of the United Nations to continue to support their efforts in the search for peace.]
Question: Good afternoon, Carlos Guillen with RCN from Colombia. In fact, on the same topic, I want to know which one is going to be the role from United Nations, all United Nations, in the creation of this commission of verification of the ceasefire in Colombia? And also, how are going to be the countries that will be part of this event to be chosen in this commission?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, with my answer to your colleague, I do expect to have something more to say about Colombia, but it's not ready yet. We are considering the issue and do expect to have a statement reflecting the Secretary‑General's views. Yes, Nick?
Question: Farhan, can I ask where are we in terms of invitations going out to members of the Syrian opposition and the possibility of the deadline and the schedule might slip?
Deputy Spokesman: Where we are is pretty much where we said we were yesterday and the day before that, which is to say that our consultations are continuing. The Special Envoy, Staffan de Mistura, has been continuing his consultations and has among other things spoken at length with the Secretary‑General on the recent developments in Geneva earlier today, and he expects to continue his discussions with the Secretary‑General. We don't have anything new to say about invitations or about the arrangements for the talks beyond that at this stage. Yes?
Question: Sure. I want to ask about South Sudan and Burundi. On South Sudan, I wanted to ask you to confirm that UNMISS (United Nations Mission in South Sudan) – yesterday in Juba an UNMISS patrol was stopped by several dozen SPLA (Sudan People's Liberation Army) military people and I've seen a UN document that says that the SPLA told UNMISS to stop conducting night patrols without SPLA clearance; otherwise, there will be consequences. Given the debate on the protection of civilians, will you confirm that this took place and what is the UN's response to the SPLA's request?
Deputy Spokesman: No, I don't have any confirmation of that. If we have any details from UNMISS down the line we will share that but, no, I don't.
Question: Can I ask about Burundi? Burundi I just wanted to as you just a straight "Yes" or "No". The… and I guess maybe it's couched as a question for the Special Adviser, Jamal Benomar, will the Security Council during its trip to Burundi, has it already been decided they will not meet any opposition representatives? And if so, what is the point?
Deputy Spokesman: That is not a straight yes‑or‑no question, nor is it a question to be answered by the Spokesperson for the Secretary‑General. It's a question for the Security Council, and I'll leave it in their hands.
Question: Who speaks for Mr. Benomar? Because I've asked to get a quote to be cleared and I didn't receive any response on it.
Deputy Spokesman: Mr. Benomar has conveyed his own views to the Security Council and he does expect to be in Burundi at the same time. And he will share any updates with us as he gets them. But in terms of who the Security Council meets or does not meet and what its agenda is, that is a question for the Security Council. Yes, you first.
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Do you have anything to say regarding this report that tens if not hundreds of civilians and mainly Sunni people have been killed by pro‑Government militia in Muqdadiyah City in Iraq?
Deputy Spokesman: We do not have a confirmation of those casualties. Our mission on the ground, UNAMI (United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq), is trying to get any details of what is happening in Muqdadiyah. But beyond that, as you know, whenever we talk about military operations that are being conducted on the ground in any areas, what we have emphasized is the need for all operations to be conducted in conformity with international human rights and humanitarian law. And our Secretary‑General Special Representative in Iraq, Ján Kubiš, has made clear the need to make sure that the operations conducted in Iraq be conducted in such a way as to be inclusive of all groups in Iraqi society so that there is no danger of sectarian divisions arising, as has happened in the country in the past. Yes, Edie and then Oleg?
Question: Two questions, Farhan. First, does the Secretary‑General have any reaction to the Taliban attack on this college in Pakistan near the Afghan border? And, secondly, does the Secretary‑General have any reaction to the pretty grim figures in the International Labour Organization's (ILO) report on the prospects for global employment over the next two years, and is there anything the UN is going to try to do to promote better employment?
Deputy Spokesman: First of all, on Pakistan, yes, we are aware of the attacks in Charsadda and the Secretary‑General, as you would no doubt expect, condemns such attacks on places of learning. And we do expect, as with Colombia, there to be a statement on this – hopefully shortly but you never know.
[The Spokesman later issued the following statement: The Secretary-General condemns the terrorist attack by armed militants at Bacha Khan University in the city of Charsadda, Pakistan, today, which killed at least 19 people and wounded dozens more. He is appalled by such acts of violence and calls for the perpetrators to be swiftly brought to justice.
The Secretary-General recalls that just over a year ago Pakistan experienced one of the deadliest school attacks in its history near the city of Peshawar, where more than 150 people died, mostly children.
He reaffirms that attacks against students, teachers or schools can never be justified. The right to education for all must be firmly protected. Schools and educational facilities must be respected as safe and secure spaces.
The Secretary-General calls for proportionate and necessary measures to be taken to ensure that schools in areas of insecurity and conflict are adequately protected.
The Secretary-General extends his heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims and to the Government and people of Pakistan.]
And regarding the report from the International Labour Organization, yes, it's alarming, the problems about global unemployment. You will have seen the efforts that the UN has been pushing to promote better employment for youth around the world and the relevant Sustainable Development Goals that deal with this topic. And as you know the Secretary‑General right now is at the World Economic Forum in Davos, where he can discuss these matters further. I think I just read out, for example, the meeting he had with the leaders of the Global Compact and their role to play, but he will continue with efforts to promote employment opportunities for youth around the world. Oleg first and then you can go after.
Question: Thank you, Farhan. The recommendations from Ban Ki‑moon regarding the monitoring of the ceasefire in Syria; they were due to send them to the Secretary‑General; did he and what are the recommendations by Ban Ki‑moon?
Deputy Spokesman: I don't have anything to do or provide at this point on recommendations for a ceasefire monitoring. That is a topic that has been discussed and Mr. Staffan de Mistura has discussed proposals with many of the key players on this, but there is nothing formal to say on this just yet. Yes?
Question: Hi, Farhan. My name is Laura Hernandez, from [inaudible] in Colombia, as well, and I want to ask you about the Foreign Minister of Columbia, Maria Angela Holguin, we were told today that she is going to come this Friday and Monday to see the Security Council and the Secretary‑General. Can you tell us about this, anything specific?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, in the same sort of way that I don't confirm the actions that are taken by the Security Council, actions that are taken by the Member States are really things for which the Member States' Permanent Missions themselves should be asked. So I wouldn't be able to specify the Foreign Minister's travels. Certainly we do intend at the Secretary‑General's levels, and I assume at also the Security Council levels, to discuss the agreements reached between the Colombian Government and the FARC at a greater extent. The UN stands ready to support it and certainly would be willing to meet from the Secretariat side with the Foreign Minister of Colombia, whenever she is here. But I don't have any schedule to give you and presumably the Permanent Mission would know better. Yes, yes, Go?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Regarding this meeting on Syria in Geneva, which is supposed to be on the 25th, if this takes place, can you confirm that the SG will participate? And also could you tell us why you don't call this a Geneva III although this meeting is based on the Secretary‑General's resolution and hosted by the UN?
Deputy Spokesman: It's not really a question of what the title is so much as getting the meeting off the ground. And you're aware of the target date, which is 25 January. If there is any change in the programme or the agenda or the location or any of those things, we will let you know at that point; but, certainly, we continue to hold that as our goal. Regarding the Secretary‑General's attendance, I don't have any travel by him to announce there at this stage. Right now, like I said, he is in Davos and we expect him back in New York on Friday evening, depending on weather. Yes?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. The Danish Government is looking at a law to be passed by 26th of this month in regard of refugees who are attempting to go to Denmark so they can confiscate their belongings, including their money, whatever, but first they promise not to confiscate the wedding rings and the gold tooth, which is too close to the refugees. What is the UN doing in regard of that and is it becoming like a concentration camp, almost?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, that is your phrasing and not mine. But, certainly, we have made our concerns known both, you know, the Secretary‑General has spoken with Danish officials this month about his concerns and we've had the head, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and Mr. [Peter] Sutherland, the Secretary‑General's envoy dealing specifically with migration, have expressed their concerns to a number of countries about the recent restrictions. Our bottom line is that all refugees need to be treated with respect for their dignity and we want to make sure that their basic rights are upheld. We are aware of different countries' concerns about the rate of migration. You've seen the sort of events we are going to be holding over the course of this year to make sure that those concerns are expressed and are dealt with, but at the same time, these are people who are suffering already as they go on the move and their suffering should not be augmented by actions taken by potential receiving countries. Yes?
Question: Sure. I guess one follow‑up on that and something about DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo), does the UN have any comment on the destruction of this Calais camp for where refugees and migrants were in France that was torn down with the bulldozers?
Deputy Spokesman: I believe that some of the rapporteurs dealing with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights have expressed their views on this, yes.
Question: Okay, and I wanted to ask about DRC. There was quotes today by the interim commander of MONUSCO (United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo), General Jean Baudrillard, that the UN did not… that South African peacekeepers, quote, responded inadequately during the FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda) attack on Mariki, and where 17 people were killed. So I wanted to know, I mean, he said there would be inquiry into how this happened; but I was surprised from this podium it was said there was a new force commander, Lieutenant General Mugwebe of South Africa. When he is taking up the post and does this have any implications given it's the peacekeeping mission that is there that didn't react?
Deputy Spokesman: It shouldn't have any implications. Obviously, as you know, when we make announcements sometimes other people are in office for a while longer and then the replacement happens. That was the case with this, where I believe we have even said in our announcement that the force commander would be around for several more weeks. But, in any case, yes, the force commander of MONUSCO did say that he considered that the UN response to the attack in Mariki was inadequate. The UN mission reinforced the presence in the Mariki area following the incident. Additional Congolese military and police units were also deployed to the area. The UN Mission, local and provincial authorities are working together to help ease tensions between communities in the area. And the Mission is also conducting investigations looking into circumstances surrounding the incident, as you have noted.
Question: Does it change the UN's desire or willingness to take itself on and, quote, neutralize the FDLR, given they were the perpetrators of this event?
Deputy Spokesman: You said what we said about operations against the FDLR and our position on that remains the same. Yes?
Question: Yemen's Local Affairs Minister said yesterday that all UN efforts to provide aid to Taiz have failed so far. Can you confirm that and who exactly is responsible for that?
Deputy Spokesman: I wouldn't say that they failed. We are continuing to try to get aid to Taiz, and at this stage, what we intend to do is send an assessment team over to Taiz and so we are trying to get a better understanding of what we can do. Of course, as we have made clear in Syria as well, what needs to happen is that people need to be given access to food, to medicine, to other forms of humanitarian aid. And efforts to seal people away, whether through siege or other tactics from humanitarian assistance are… cannot be tolerated and ultimately they lead to violations of international humanitarian law. Yes?
Question: Sure. I just wanted to ask I guess about the Secretary‑General's meetings. There was a report that he met with Venezuela and said he will attend the NAM (Non Aligned Movement) meeting in July. This is a published report. And they also said he said various things praising Venezuela and I wanted to know, can we get a readout? Did such a meeting took place, forgetting his travel schedule for a moment, and, two, are we going to get readouts of… particularly of meetings that the other side is reading out, so we can hear both sides?
Deputy Spokesman: We provide readouts of whatever meetings we can get them for, and certainly try to get readouts for meetings where one side or another has put out the readouts, so that is what we try to do.
Question: For those readouts?
Deputy Spokesman: That is what we try to do. Regarding future travel, there is nothing at this stage, this far ahead.
Question: Did he meet with Venezuela when he was in Switzerland?
Deputy Spokesman: I don't have anything from my colleague, Stéphane [Dujarric]. If I do, I will share it with you. Thanks. Good afternoon.
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